Updated: Mar 12, 2019
There is no getting around it, Anxiety is something that can be debilitating at times and can dramatically affect our quality of life. If we spend our whole time worrying then it leaves little time to enjoy even the smallest moments in life.
Having Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a little different from experiencing Anxiety in particular situations, like social settings or public speaking. And we also need to acknowledge Anxiety is a perfectly normal feeling. It goes right back to our primal "Fight or flight" response that is inherent in us as Human Beings. If we didn't have that immediate rush of adrenalin then we probably wouldn't have made it past the caveman (or woman) stage. But when Anxiety starts to permeate our general lives then the ball game changes in a big way. Anxiety can lead to a multitude of other problems, for example;
* Avoiding social situations altogether
* The inability to carry out our day to day functions like work, parenting etc
So in order to tackle Anxiety like a boss, we need to understand where it comes from and why we are experiencing it, which is obviously very different for each person who suffers from it. There is "high functioning" Anxiety, which many people suffer from in silence. On the outside, they seem to have it all together, whether it be at work or at home, but on the inside, the turmoil is extremely hard to bear and maintain the look of being "ok". Eventually, the cracks start to show because having a diagnosis of Anxiety if not something you can run from forever and trust me, I have tried.
The most effective treatment therapy wise I would definitely say is CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The simplest way of explaining what this type of therapy could be something as simple as this;
* You face a situation and your brain instinctively tells you to go right with no challenge to that thought process at all. CBT allows you to STOP at the intersection and possibly turn left instead for a healthier outcome. These are called "Cognitive Distortions" which is described as;
*Tendencies or patterns of thinking or believing…
*That are false or inaccurate…
*And have the potential to cause psychological damage.
And here is a quick list (and I bet you can tick a few off straight away) of how the anxious brain thinks. I know when my Doctor first went through these I was like "yep, yep, yep, oh yep I do that, shit"
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking
Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of grey. In other words, you see things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you are either perfect or a total failure. (Yep tick that box!)
This sneaky distortion takes one instance or example and generalizes it to an overall pattern. For example, a student may receive a C on one test and conclude that she is stupid and a failure. Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about oneself and one’s environment based on only one or two experiences.
3. Disqualifying the Positive
The “Disqualifying the Positive” distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them. For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that he is a competent employee and attribute the positive review to luck or someone just being nice to them. This is an especially malignant distortion since it can facilitate the continuance of negative thought patterns even in the face of lots of evidence to the contrary. (I am REALLY good at this one)
5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading ( This was the "oh crap" moment). This “Jumping to Conclusions” distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking. Of course, it is possible to have an idea of what other people are thinking, but this distortion refers to the negative interpretations that we jump to. Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that she is thinking something negative about you is an instance of this distortion.
6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling. A sister distortion to mind reading, fortune telling refers to the tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence and holding them as gospel truth. One example of fortune-telling is a young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.
7. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization ( oooooh yes this is a favourite of mine)
Also known as the “Binocular Trick” for its stealthy skewing of your perspective, this distortion involves exaggerating the importance or meaning of things or minimizing the importance or meaning of things. An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.
8. Emotional Reasoning
This may be one of the most surprising distortions to many readers, and it is also one of the most important to identify and address. The logic behind this distortion is not surprising to most people; rather, it is the realization that virtually all of us have bought into this distortion at one time or another. Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Often we become astute at collecting examples to support this distortion.
This is just a few of the irregularities in our thinking and responses when it comes to Anxiety, but they are the ones I relate to the most. So how do we tackle it?
The best and most practical way is to initiate what I like to call my "STOP" button. As previously mentioned instead of instinctively turning right, I stop at the intersection and take a moment to listen to the thought, see if it is real and if not I challenge it. A great way to do this is by journalling a kind of thought diary. I write the thought down, then in two columns, I put down what evidence I have to support that thought and feeling. Am I mind reading? Looking into the future? Most of the time the answer is yes.
It is like retraining your brain to STOP and challenge that negative monologue and take a more healthy approach to the situation. I highly recommend CBT Therapy for anyone who experiences Anxiety on a regular basis because unlike more complex Mental Health conditions, CBT can have a dramatic effect after only a couple of sessions. Once you realise that the feeling and thought of having no control over it is wrong, it empowers you to challenge those thoughts more instinctively.
Check out this amazing resource by Sean Cooper, who has helped thousands of people over the past 5 years overcome their Anxiety. I highly recommend this website and blog, Sean is an inspiring guy who has definitely made a huge difference in many people's lives.
The other thing I would say has helped me enormously with my Anxiety is practising Mindfulness. In its simplest form, sometimes it is just sitting with the emotion, recognising it for what it is and then letting it pass like a cloud in the sky. One that really resonates with me is to sit with the thought with my eyes closed and deep breathing and imaging a river that I put the thought onto a leaf and watch it float away. Mindfulness is becoming more and more integral to our Mental Health as we learn more about it.
So now you have some tools to tackle Anxiety like a boss, but as always you should seek professional advice as more severe forms of Anxiety will often require some medical intervention.
Good luck, remember the STOP button and turn left this time!